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A man with a beard wearing a blue and black shirt in a radio studio in front of the broadcasting equipment
Eric Bohlen

New WEFT station manager has local ties and an inclusive vision

Champaign’s own WEFT community radio has a new station manager, Eric Bohlen, a prodigal son of Champaign with a family legacy connected to WEFT. In an exclusive interview, Bohlen shared his excitement about his homecoming, his vision for WEFT, and how his lifelong passion for radio has shaped his path back to Champaign. With vast experience spanning copywriting for international and local advertisers, to an intrinsic familiarity with the station’s ethos thanks to his mother’s long-standing volunteering efforts, Bohlen sat down with me to discuss his plans for the beloved station.

“It’s literally a dream come true of a dream I didn’t know I even had,” Bohlen enthused about his return to Champaign. A graduate of Centennial High School and Parkland College, Bohlen left to follow a relationship, leading him to Durham, North Carolina. There, his career in radio was launched, a journey that has brought him full circle back to his roots.

Bohlen’s journey in radio began somewhat by happenstance. As a communications major working at an advertising agency, he never envisioned radio as his potential career until he saw an ad for a radio copywriter.

When asked about how his advertising experience would shape his approach, Bohlen chuckled at his early days writing for businesses as quirky as the local waterbed warehouse, and as diverse as German racing car manufacturers. He noted the significant impact these experiences had on his perspective.

“I really had to dive in and do research,” Bohlen recalled. “I found that if I actually put myself in the place of that person, I was writing empathetically with the things that they needed to hear.” This skill of empathetic writing and understanding different perspectives is something Bohlen is keen to bring to WEFT, describing himself as an outsider ready to ask important questions.

“I’m going to ask questions, which might make somebody say, you know, maybe that isn’t the right way,” said Bohlen. He hopes this fresh approach can help reenergize the volunteer community who keep the station running.

Bohlen’s passion for radio, however, goes far deeper than just his role as a station manager. It’s woven into the fabric of his family history. His mother was a long-time volunteer at WEFT and her enthusiasm for radio profoundly shaped Bohlen’s love for the medium. “She was so excited about this radio station,” he fondly recalled. “She used to say, as long as I’m listening to the radio, I can be anywhere in the world without ever having to leave the kitchen.”

Bohlen described the sense of companionship radio provided during his extensive travels across the country. Hearing familiar voices and songs, even in new and unfamiliar cities, offered a sense of comfort, a sense of being “back in Champaign.” Bohlen sees this personal experience as a testament to the power of radio in establishing and nurturing community bonds.

A man standing next to a sign inside a radio station that reads "Listen Local! 90.1FM". There is a window that looks into the studio below the sign and racks of CDs on the walls.
Eric Bohlen

His mother’s love for WEFT was so great that it crossed states and years. “I bet you I got every newsletter that she ever got. She would package it up and send it to me. I’ve got t-shirts. I’ve got sweatshirts. I got bumper stickers. I got coffee mugs,” said Bohlen. His mother’s enduring spirit and passion for WEFT remain a significant influence, guiding him in his new role.

Bohlen’s career in radio took him away from his home, leading him to work in several different cities across the country. However, his return to Champaign to take up the position at WEFT was spurred by a strong desire to be closer to his family. His poignant reflections on the passing of his parents and the health issues of his brothers added an emotional underpinning to his decision to return home. In a way, coming back to WEFT felt like completing a circle, though he admitted, “I was never really here, but it feels like this is the place I was supposed to be, and the timing of it was perfect.”

Back in his hometown, Bohlen hopes to bring his 40 years of experience in media and marketing to the local station. He’s fully aware that community radio is a different ball game, comparing WEFT to 40 unique radio stations under one roof due to its diverse programming.

“My career has been [working with a station] that was jazz, or a radio station that was talk shows. Now I’ve got all these mini radio stations within one,” Bohlen said. He’s excited about the unique format, saying, “It’s literally like having 40 radio stations. You can tune in and hear different things.”

Bohlen brings an outsider’s insight and a local’s love to his new role. He’s excited about the local music scene, which he described as “changed for the better.” His plan is to maintain the community radio’s diverse and inclusive spirit while simultaneously driving it toward a modern and contemporary future.

“The backbone for this radio station has always been community and diversity. It’s the voice. It provides a voice for the voiceless. It provides outlets for musicians who might not necessarily get on mainstream corporately-programmed radio stations,” Bohlen affirmed.

Bohlen’s vision for WEFT includes staying accessible, responsive, and providing an alternative to corporate radio. He intends to uphold and enhance these principles by spreading awareness, encouraging local involvement, and seeking out voices within the community that may not otherwise be heard.

“So that’s what I’m going to do. I want to go meet people in the community. There are lots of great organizations that provide different outlets,” he shared.

When you think of radio, you likely envision a medium that connects communities, showcases diversity, and brings people together through the shared love of music. Bohlen’s vision goes beyond just an idea: it’s a call to action.

“Expanding the reach of the radio station is my foremost plan,” Bohlen began, outlining his vision for WEFT’s future. Despite the radio station’s existing loyal listeners, Bohlen recognizes the potential to connect with an even broader audience. The aim? To invite them into the wonderful world of WEFT. From encouraging new volunteers and on-air talent to seeking community partners for underwriting their programming, Bohlen aspires to spread WEFT’s footprint further, making it a vibrant platform that resonates with all demographics.

Bohlen is especially keen on engaging younger audiences. Bohlen is aware that younger generations have unique perspectives and experiences that they can bring to the community radio, thereby ensuring that WEFT accurately reflects its diverse listener base.

In his journey with WEFT, Bohlen wants to carve a path that his mother would be proud of, and through this, continue to uphold her legacy. He wants to bring people together, providing a platform for diverse voices and showcasing the power of radio to foster community connections. It’s clear that Bohlen is dedicated to this cause.

A man with a blue and black country western shirt in front of huge racks of CDs inside a radio station
Erick Bohlen

“It’s all about creating a sense of community,” Bohlen affirmed, as he further discussed his vision. “Radio is a powerful tool. It’s an intimate, personal medium that can bring people together like few other things can.” By introducing more local content, promoting community engagement, and reaching out to younger audiences, he believes WEFT can help enhance community bonds.

Bohlen also emphasized the importance of keeping up with technological advancements. “In this digital age, we can’t afford to be left behind,” he noted. He aims to enhance WEFT’s online presence and streamline digital content for an easier, more accessible listening experience. “Our potential reach is now global, thanks to the internet. We need to capitalize on that,” he said, signaling his intention to make the radio station accessible to a wider audience, beyond just Champaign-Urbana.

As for the digital transformation of radio, Bohlen sees immense potential. Despite the financial constraints as a non-commercial station, he envisions several potential changes, including the development of an app with access to different music genres, behind-the-scenes content, and even podcasting.

“One of the things that I want to try and get into at some point is podcasting,” he enthused, imagining shows that delve deeper into the stories of hosts and artists. Bohlen also sees WEFT as a perfect training ground for local students interested in broadcasting, saying, “I think we can offer that opportunity to them.”

When asked about what success looks like for him in this new role, Bohlen didn’t speak of financial gains or skyrocketing listenership. Instead, he painted a picture of a radio station that is truly representative of its community, one that encourages dialogue, celebrates diversity, and connects people.

“Success for me is seeing our listeners engage with us and with each other,” he said. “It’s hearing a diversity of voices and opinions on the air. It’s knowing that we’ve made a positive impact on our community.”

As Bohlen steps into this new role, it’s clear that he carries not just the legacy of his mother, but also a deep-seated love for the power of radio and the community it serves. His vision for WEFT is ambitious, but grounded in the belief that radio, specifically community radio, can act as a uniting force, one that bridges gaps, sparks conversations, and fosters a strong sense of community.

As for personal goals during his tenure, Bohlen expressed an earnest desire to continue the legacy of the station, citing its remarkable history of growing from a local cable access channel to a global streaming platform.

“The fact that it’s been able to sustain and grow and keep being prosperous, that’s in their heart. That’s amazing. I don’t ever want to lose that,” Bohlen concluded. His vision for the future of WEFT is undoubtedly as expansive as it is community-oriented, promising an exciting new chapter for this Champaign gem.

Music Editor